a life-changing hike in the flatirons.

Friday afternoon at our conference was designated “activity time.” There were a multitude of great choices that got all the conference attendees up-and-away from sitting in the same seat and having people talk at us. There were quite a few that were tempting (brewery tour bus, namely) but we settled on attending a hike in the Flatirons.

We chose the hike partially for exercise, but also partially because it would literally be our only time to get out and see nature. We could see glimpses of the foothills behind buildings as we moved between sessions, but really, we were trapped indoors for the greater part of our conference. Which is a shame in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

We took a bus to Chautauqua Park and split into three groups: challenging, moderate and easy.

We chose easy with a handful of other people and the world’s most amazing trail guide.

She was flat-out inspiring. She was a part-time Pilates instructor and part-time hiking guide. She had ostentatious, nerdy designers playing games and giggling like little school girls.

You could tell she loved her life. And it was easy to see why.  She loved walking through the mountains and telling people about the animals. She loved teaching us how to breathe to make sure we got in enough oxygen. She loved who she was. Not only that. She had figured out who she was and also loved it. Something I definitely haven’t accomplished yet.

There were a few of us on the hike that were awestruck by this woman’s life outlook. Coming from a group of iPad lovers and abstract thinkers, meeting a woman who was so content in just being, existing, and experiencing was refreshing.

For the entire hike, I was trying to figure out what made me so enamored with her. Sure, her life seemed blissful, but I’m not naive enough to believe that everything is perfect. Why was I so inspired by this woman? There were other people on the hike that were eye-rolling and scoffing at her; my adoration of her wasn’t shared among the entire group. Someone said, “I can’t take another damn picture of a mountain.” And another girl was actually texting on her iPhone the entire time. I’m hyper-connected, but c’mon! This is life you are missing, here!

I didn’t figure out why I was reacting so differently from the masses until I got back on the bus to head back to the hotel. We were chatting with our seat-neighbors and asked them how the moderate hike was and they reciprocated the question. We explained about our awesome Pilates/Trail Guide. The man in front of me laughed and then said, “There are a lot of people in my PhD program that are going to be looking for jobs as ‘Pilates’ instructors.”

Pretentious jerk.

It dawned on me that other people thought this woman was a flake. Unsuccessful.

It never even occurred to me that this woman could be viewed as unsuccessful. Was she making a ton of money? Probably not. But she was the happiest, most carefree person I’d met in a long, long time. I’d love to be that content in my life. She had shed any need to satisfy a stereotype of “success” and was just doing what she loved. She was successful. More successful than 90% of the conference attendees. Certainly more successful than a PhD candidate that needs to put down his classmates. . .

Sometimes I struggle with the culture of my career path. I’m good at what I do and I enjoy it, but culture of my profession has bit of a “pretentious designer” stereotype that is born out of a whole lot of truth. What I do is not life or death. And I accept that. A lot of members of my field don’t quite grasp how truly unimportant what we do is. And when people think they are overtly important, they think the “little people” aren’t.


I am not better than a Pilates instructor because I design websites. Or because I am a blogger. Or because I’m really good at Photoshop. Or because I am tall. Or because I have dark hair. Or because I’m from Indiana. Or for any reason.

Jobs are just jobs. Even careers are just jobs. The most important thing is discovering your own definition of success. And mine is not how many awards I win, conferences I attend or how many zeros are at the end of my paycheck.

To me, success is figuring out who you want to be and achieving it. Truthfully, I think the first part is the hardest. Once you have an end goal, the path reveals itself. I’m not there yet. Not even close. I have no idea where I will be next decade or even next year. And right now, that’s okay.

What is happening is I can see a picture slowly revealing itself in my mind. That out-of-focus picture is my end goal. My Flatirons. My Pilates class. My whatever.  As my life-experiences start to add up, I’m starting to put together a mental scrapbook for my definition of success. And the smile on that woman’s face as she led a group through the mountains, that is the first item on the page. I want to see that smile on my own face.

P.S. I promise I’ll write about food on this blog again soon. Maybe even tomorrow. . .


  1. patti kirk says

    You’ve hit upon the secret of success…real success…success in what really matters…knowing who you are and where you want to go…being content to live in the moment…not being overly concerned with the perceptions and prejudices of others!! Oh yeah…great pictures too!!

    • says

      It is interesting to see how my definition of success changes as I get older. I’m not there yet, but I can definitely see me formulating a picture of success that is totally different from what it was 5 years ago.

  2. Karen says

    What an amazing post! I always check in with you everyday (not that you’d know) :) But this is something that I’ve struggled with in the past. Me: a girl that worked for Trader Joe’s and loved it ..but always felt I needed to do more. I even had a customer say, “There has to be more than Trader’s for you??” So, I followed a life long dream…and became a Sheriff’s Deputy. The training was awesome and what a confidence booster! The only thing is, I thought once I had my badge and gun, it would be different. Nope, I was still me -A much less happy me. So now, Me: A girl that works (once again) for Trader Joe’s and loves every minute of it. I start each day with gratitude and consider my life extremely blessed! Thank you for your blog.

    P.S. I think I needed to go through that experience to get me where I am today..I would not trade it for anything. Besides the academy is where I learned one of my current passions, running. Just did a 10k on Sunday…60min and 52 sec. Woot Woot!

  3. says

    From The Celestine Prophecy

    “When you are ready to learn a lesson, life will provide a teacher.”

    That is the true definition of the word, coincident.

  4. says

    Sometimes I feel like I am judged by family and friends as pitiful, or unsuccessful. I have to consciously remind myself that I’m doing just fine, but on my terms… I do get stuck sometimes in others’ terms… wishing I could buy a house, or take a vacation to somewhere tropical…. but most of my days include some vacation in them… so I can’t complain.

    I’m a teacher, taught in the classroom a few years and this year I went out at it independently. I work with a home school student 4 days a week for 2 1/2 hours each morning, and tutor other students during after school hours. I’m unconventional in a conventional world. It’s okay though. I am paying my bills and truly this is all that matters. The other stuff is just stuff. Sometimes I want the other stuff, and I go through little crises… but I far more value the time to go out on a long run at noon to a ton of extra cash to splash around.

    It can definitely be challenging at times to not get caught up in others’ realities, where it’s all about the job and the money… but when I do, I pull myself back and remind myself that the money is of no use when the job takes up all the time you would spend enjoying the money.

    • says

      I feel that way about my parents (hi Dad!). They would NEVER judge me for doing what I love, but sometimes I feel like I owe it to them to be “traditionally” successful. They have done SO much for me and I want them to be able to brag. But I need to let that go. I’ll never be in one of the traditionally successful professions. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer. And they know who I am (and who I’m not).They’ll be proud of me just as long as I’m happy in my life.

      I struggle with the money thing, too. I work my job at the place I do because I feel like I’m actually doing a bit of good, but the paycheck is probably HALF of what I could get working for a big, private agency. Sometimes it would be awesome to own a nice car or go on vacations, but then I remind myself that I get to leave work at 3:30 and can wear jeans and feel like I haven’t sold my soul.

  5. Lori says

    Your job sounds like a pretty good fit for you, but the job I got straight out of college at a publishing company was a horrible fit for me, and I hated it. I felt successful to be a “real” writer, but I only lasted about 10 months. Then I started freelancing on my own and working on my family’s farm gardening and beekeeping, which completely changed my life for the better.

    But, when people asked me what I was doing now, I was always embarrassed and somewhat ashamed that I didn’t have to get dressed up everyday and go into the office, and while I still feel that people judge me, the embarrassment has started to subside some, and I feel really proud most of the time to tell people what I do. I still have a long way to go too, but I’m happy I can admit to my feelings about it and look forward to the day when I wake up in the morning. :)

  6. Jenn says

    Loved this post. I am working my way to being that gal, when I grow up and figure out what it is I want, not the version someone else expects. I haven’t quite gotten strong enough to do that yet. But I’m working on it.

  7. Suzanne says

    I LOVE this entry! I missed it somehow and just read it.I have been battling with this A LOT lately.Part of me would like to go to school and do something and become “successful.” Another part of me thinks that I should not be so concerned about it.A lot of the time it seems that you put in all your time, energy, and talent just to make someone else successful anyway.I want to do something that is going to make me happy and allow me to live my life in a way that makes sense to me( whatever that is, I haven’t quite figured that out yet either).I think too often we put too much importance on others opinions of us rather than valuing our own.Thank you for the reminder!

  8. Jessica says

    I was linked back here through your 7 links post. (So, sorry about the delayed response, and the essay-like comment.)

    I recently visited a friend in northern Minnesota and experienced almost the exact same feeling towards my friend’s father. He doesn’t live any sort of glamorous life – he owns a net-making company – but he is an avid hunter and fisherman who recently built his dream house in the woods, and takes frequent trips to Canada and even Alaska to do what he loves. In addition to being the nicest man ever, he was able to find the good in everything. Even after taking my friend and I out fishing (we didn’t catch anything), all he could talk about was how happy he was to be out on the boat, to be sharing that with us, how nice a day it was, etc.

    You named exactly what I feel when I think about him. I wish to be that carefree and happy with my life – doing exactly what I want to be doing, making time for my own interests, (having a career that relates to my interests), and making family a priority, too (which you didn’t specify about your tour guide, but was definitely something I admired about my friend’s father).

    I told my mom and brother about him, and even mentioned that I wanted to put a picture of him up somewhere to inspire me to find that sort of happiness in my life. (I still feel like that’s a little odd, but) I feel like it’s good to have that sort of inspiration.

    I unfortunately don’t think I’m anywhere near finding that in my life, yet, but this:
    “As my life-experiences start to add up, I’m starting to put together a mental scrapbook for my definition of success. And the smile on that woman’s face as she led a group through the mountains, that is the first item on the page. I want to see that smile on my own face”
    is a good start :)

    • Cassie says

      My Dad has always said that when you are ready to learn a lesson, life will present a teacher, and I totally feel that way about that woman and your friend’s father. It is crazy what we can learn from perfect strangers.

  9. says

    Wow. What a beautiful post. And not just because Chautauqua is my favorite place to hike :) I read each and every comment and was so inspired by everything everyone said. I’m totally struggling to find what I want to do with my life. I just want to be proud and happy about what I do and I’m really really not sure what that is. I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard but this post was such a nice reminder that success isn’t exactly black and white.

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